Screaming into the wind or a cynical shift in the balance of power? Council debates the proposed federal riding changes

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
August 26th, 2012

Rossland’s council has passed a motion to send a letter and a representative to the Oct. 3 Provincial Commission hearing in Castlegar to express “discontent” and oppose the proposal for large changes to the BC Southern Interior riding.

The new “South Okanagan-West Kootenay” riding would no longer include Nelson, Harrop-Proctor, Blewett, Slamo, Ymir, Fruitvale, or Montrose, all of which would be added to the Kootenay-Columbia riding that stretches to Alberta.


Rossland’s new riding would include Penticton—a connection of that city to the West Kootenay that has not happened for a century.


The new ridings have been touted as necessary for “population changes,” but the Electorial Boundaries Readjustment Act says that—besides making ridings as equal as possible—boundaries should consider community interest, identity and historical patterns.


In these terms, the boundaries seem nonsensical to many, leading some to suspect political motives by the ruling Conservative party.


Coun. Kathy Moore raised the issue: “I don’t know if anyone else sees a reason why this ought to happen, but I was really having a hard time. It looks like it’s just pure politicking.”


“There’s no compelling reason to change the boundaries, but it’s going to have a big impact on our area,” she warned. “We’re now going to be put with Penticton, and that’s a big [centre]—33,000 people. I’m concerned our issues and rural concerns are going to get lost in the shuffle.”


She added, “The rest of our riding going off towards Cranbrook is going to have the same sort of problem.”


Moore noted that there are two local opportunities to oppose the change, one in Nelson on Oct. 2 and one in Castlegar on Oct. 3. 


Citizens who oppose the change must submit a letter to the Provincial Commission by Aug. 30. Details are available in the letter MP Alex Atamanenko sent to council and that we have attached at the bottom of this article.


Moore said, “I’d like to propose that this council send in a letter saying that we’re not in favour of changing the boundaries, we’d just as soon leave them as they are. And also that we send a representative, such as our mayor.”


Mayor Greg Granstrom said, “I’m sure there’s a reason the boundaries are being changed, and I’m certain it has a whole bunch to do with money.”


Coun. Tim Thatcher weighed in, “It’s population.”


Coun. Jill Spearn was not convinced. “Coun. Moore is absolutely right, and certainly—through MP Alex Atamanenko’s information, he does a really good job of informing people—it’s troublesome.”


Spearn explained, “It’s taking a large city in the Okanagan and lumping us all together. Our rural needs are often much different. I’m opposed to it too. Whether it does anything [or not], I think we should speak up on it for sure.”


Fisher pushed for the boundary change—speaking “strongly” against Moore’s motion—hoping the new boundaries would lead to a Conservative MP for our riding. Recalling Reform days under the Liberals and now NDP days under the Conservatives, he called it a “double shot-gun barrel into both feet,” and “screaming into the wind.”


He said, “I think that our voice isn’t heard already. I mean, we have a lot of voices. Alex [Atamanenko] does a great job, an absolutely great job, speaking with us. But when you’re in the minority for as long as we’ve been in the minority in this part of the valley, you’re just a bunch of people screaming into the wind.”


“We haven’t ‘got it’ yet,” he said, “We haven’t figured that part out. If we continue to be in the Opposition, you can just see it, it’s just politics: infrastructure, projects, big ones get voted into areas that vote certain ways. That’s the way it works. It worked that way with the Liberals when they were in, and it works that way with the Harper government. We’ve been on the wrong side of it forever.”


Thatcher said, “You look at the position of the [new] boundaries and it doesn’t really make sense. We should be with the East Kootenay I think. But I agree with Coun. Fisher that we have been out of the loop on the government side for years—both provincial and federal. Boundary-wise it just doesn’t make sense, but it would be nice to be with the government.”


Coun. Jody Blomme said, “The arguments in the letter [from Atamanenko] made sense to me, but I am concerned about actually voting to support that letter since I don’t know the other side of the argument. I’m not confident in saying yes, let’s publicly put forward that we want such and such.”


Spearn addressed Fisher and Thatcher’s preference to be “with” the government in power: “As far as political parties and who gets in,” she said, “that’s where you cast your vote. I don’t think a boundary change is really a reason for us to hope that we get the MP in that’s on the side of the government in Parliament.”


She concluded, “I just think Penticton and the Okanagan are different. We’re the Kootenays. Our needs are different.”


Moore concurred: “The thought of putting your vote in hopes that you’ll be aligned with the government in power, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me actually because governments change. We may get more federal infrastructure grants if we were in a Conservative riding, but maybe more provincial grants if we stick with the NDP and the NDP gets in in Victoria. You can’t play that game too well, I don’t think.”


Moore continued, “There’s more than just getting grants when you align yourself politically. I’m not looking at it from that point of view. I’m looking at it from the communities that are represented in the Southern Interior. At this point we have more in common, and our concerns are more aligned with them, than dividing us up and going Nelson off to Cranbrook and us off to Penticton. It just doesn’t make sense.”


She said, “The redistribution is meant to be on big population changes [on the order of 25 per cent], but the population changes have not been significant enough to trigger that.”


The population change of the boundaries has been closer to 10 per cent.


“Unless someone can come up with a reason other than straight politics, it just doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t add up,” Moore concluded. “There are six new ridings in the Lower Mainland because of population, but that doesn’t apply to us. This is strictly to change the balance of power.”

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